Navigating the waters of PR isn’t as difficult as it may look

A friend of mine called me the other day seeking PR advice. (Yep – if you’re my friend and you need PR counsel, I can be bought with a white chocolate mocha. Or even better, a glass of pinot noir.)

I agreed to meet this friend over a couple of adult beverages. When I got there, he was drowning – not in vodka, but in industry terminology.

He had just gotten out of a meeting with a PR consultant and was floundering around in acronyms such as SEO, SMT, MCM and ROI. He was treading through buzzwords like crowdsourcing, digital ecosystem, tablet marketing, vertical media and – my personal all-time favorite (not really) – “low-hanging fruit.”

This friend, a doctor who specializes in cosmetic procedures, had been loading up on so much information from so many PR “how-to” articles and consultants that his brain finally blared “DOES NOT COMPUTE!” and refused to process any of it anymore.

He told me he was trying to think outside the box. I told him to forget the box. Stash it away somewhere. That box is probably exhausted anyway from being in a phrase that’s used about 90 million times a day. In fact, I’m sure that box is longing for a vacation. Maybe we could pack some low-hanging fruit in it and ship it to Cancun.

I asked my friend the same thing I ask anyone who tells me they feel adrift in a sea of PR and marketing decisions: When was the last time you took a break from thinking like a business owner and tried thinking like your customer?

So I gave my friend a checklist of questions to help him think like a patient who’s trying to choose a doctor. Here are a few of them. Although some of these questions apply to his business, they all have a universal theme: What is your target customer looking for, and does your public persona reflect your unparalleled ability to meet that need?

1.    WEBSITE: Take a good hard look at your website. I’m sure it’s packed with confident and enthusiastic language. That’s fine – copywriters need love, too. But what’s the ratio of marketing dialogue to useful information? Do visitors leave your website feeling educated? Do you have a gazillion – YES, a gazillion! – quality photos that showcase your work, particularly before and after shots? Do you have detailed descriptions of your procedures? (If so, you’re providing authoritative information to counter the misinformation, horror stories and scary photos your potential client will most likely find in a Google search.) Do you have a Frequently Asked Questions page? Does your website offer several ways for visitors to contact you with questions? Are you frequently sharing your knowledge and industry news with your website visitors? Actually, that question leads to the next topic.

2.    EXPERTISE: You’re the next best thing to the Fountain of Youth, and you’ve got a wealth of information to help people look and feel more attractive. Are you giving away that info on a regular basis? Oh yes! I said, “giving it away”! Sharing valuable tips and advice demonstrates your expertise as well as your genuine desire to help others. Does your website have a blog that addresses relative topics? Is its tone informative or does it read like a sales pitch? (If it’s the latter, please hold out your hand so I can smack it with a ruler.) Are you also sharing useful information through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets? There are some great forums out there for consumers seeking advice and answers about products and services. Are you occasionally chiming in on those forums with advice and answers to their questions? DON’T FORGET: Getting your brain out there is just as important as getting your name out there. (Somebody put that phrase on a T-shirt!)

3.    CUSTOMERS: You’ve got consultation patients that are a little jittery in your waiting room. They’re wondering if they’re making the right decision. They’re dealing with the reality that they’re about to let someone alter their faces and bodies. So what are you doing to nurture these people? Is your office a comforting environment? Is your receptionist warm and welcoming? Are you offering them a beverage while they wait or using small, meaningful gestures to give them the royal treatment? Do you have a binder of your media coverage accessible so patients can flip through it and recognize you as an expert in your field? From the moment your customers/clients/patients walk through your door, your place of business should speak to them: “You are welcome here. You are safe here. We care about you. We want you to be happy – even if you ultimately choose to go somewhere else.” Word of mouth is one of the most powerful PR tools we can use. Make a fabulous impression on your customers and they’ll tell people about it.

For small business owners who don’t have an agency to navigate them through a sea of PR strategies and initiatives, the process can get a little overwhelming. If it happens to you, just shift your perspective. Think about your own buying habits and the factors that influenced those decisions. Think about the brands you love and the reasons you love them. Then think about why you love your own business and how you can convey that passion to others. Sometimes, we have to get back to our roots in order to keep growing. I think Yoda said that. Or Mr. Rogers. Either way, I like it.